“We initiated “Clean INDIA” program – I don’t know whether it’s a big thing or a small thing- but I am determined to build toilets on a large scale, People ask me “what’s your vision, big vision?” I tell them I got to this stage but I started out selling tea……I can think only small things for small people, but these are big things for small people, these will change the future of India”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi Speaking at Madison Square Garden, New York September 29, 2014



Can’t we just make arrangements for toilets for the dignity of our mothers and sisters? Brothers and Sisters, somebody might feel that a big festival like 15th August is an occasion to talk big…..Brothers and sisters, you must be getting shocked to hear the Prime Minister speaking of cleanliness and the need to build toilets from the ramparts of the Red Fort. Brothers and sisters, I do not know how my speech is going to be criticised and how will people take it. But this is my heartfelt conviction.

I come from a poor family, I have seen poverty. The poor need respect and it begins with cleanliness. I, therefore, have to launch a ‘clean India’ campaign from 2nd October this year and carry it forward in 4 years. I want to make a beginning today itself and that is – all schools in the country should have toilets with separate toilets for girls. Only then our daughters will not be compelled to leave schools midway. Our parliamentarians utilizing MPLAD fund are there. I appeal to them to spend it for constructing toilets in schools for a year. The government should utilize its budget on providing toilets.

I call upon the corporate sector also to give priority to the provision of toilets in schools with your expenditure under Corporate Social Responsibility. This target should be finished within one year with the help of state governments and on the next 15th August, we should be in a firm position to announce that there is no school in India without separate toilets for boys and girls.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi Speaking at Red Fort, New Delhi August 15, 2014

After blogging about it (here and here) and suffering nationalistic Indians’ slings and arrows for years, it’s refreshing for this blogger to see a top Indian leader finally acknowledge the serious problem of the lack of hygiene in India.

How Serious is the Problem?

India’s rivers have been turned into open sewers by 638 million Indians without access to toilets, according to rural development minister Jairam Ramesh. He was reacting a UNICEF report that says Indians make up 58% of the world population which still practices open defection, and the sense of public hygiene in India is the worst in South Asia and the world.

India(638m) is followed by Indonesia (58m), China (50m), Ethiopia (49m), Pakistan (48m), Nigeria (33m) and Sudan (17m). In terms of percentage of each country’s population resorting to the unhygienic practice, Ethiopia tops the list with 60%, followed by India 54%, Nepal 50%, Pakistan 28%, Indonesia 26%, and China 4%.

18 percent of urban India still defecates in open while the percentage of rural India is as high as 69 percent of the population. It is the key reason why India carries among the highest infectious disease burdens in the world.

The number of open defecators in rural India alone is more than twice those in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, according to a report by DFID, the UK’s Department for International Development.

Impact of the Problem:

The World Bank has estimated that open defecation costs India $54 billion per year or $48 per head. This is more than the Government of India’s entire budget for health.

The UNICEF report says that with only one more years to go until 2015, a major leap in efforts and investments in sanitation is needed to reach the targets of Millennium Development Goals.

New research has found that poor sanitation is a major cause of stunted children in India. These children’s bodies divert energy and nutrients away from growth and brain development to prioritize infection-fighting survival,” said Jean Humphrey, a professor of human nutrition at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in an interview with New York Times. “When this happens during the first two years of life, children become stunted. What’s particularly disturbing is that the lost height and intelligence are permanent.”

The World Bank child raised in India is far more likely to be malnourished than one from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe or Somalia, the planet’s poorest countries. Stunting affects 65 million Indian children under the age of 5, including a third of children from the country’s richest families.

Summary:

Mr. Modi is going beyond just recognizing the problem of lack of sanitation in his country; he is using his bully pulpit to push for allocating public and private resources to address it. He is setting a good example for other nations in South Asia, including Pakistan, to follow.

Here’s a video of Modi speaking at Madison Square Garden in New York: